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Public television plans to ask for funding increase from 2013 Legislature

Public television plans to ask for funding increase from 2013 Legislature

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
November 2, 2012

Idaho Public Television (IPTV) is requesting an additional $1.5 million from Idaho taxpayers in the coming fiscal year. But at least one state legislator says it will be a tough sell for him to support such a request.

“Idahoans enjoy public television, and that’s fine,” Rep. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, told Idaho Reporter.com, “but we should not be funding it with tax dollars. We have our funding priorities in Idaho, and this is definitely not one of my priorities.”

Under its current budget, IPTV is operating with slightly more than $2.5 million appropriated by the state of Idaho, which is an increase from the previous year when IPTV received $2.3 million in state appropriations. However, for fiscal year 2014 that begins in July 2013, IPTV has requested an additional $1.4 million in state tax dollars, bringing their total appropriation request to approximately $3.9 million.

IPTV broadcasts statewide from transmitters in Pocatello, Twin Falls, Moscow, Boise and Coeur d’Alene. Each transmitter provides four separate digital “HD” sub-channels. Central studios are located in Boise, while remote studios are operated on the campuses of the University of Idaho and Idaho State University, where students can earn college credit for working at the studios.

IPTV General Manager Peter Morrill told IdahoReporter.com that state and federal taxpayer dollars are important revenue sources for IPTV, but noted that those funds actually comprise only a minority of the operation’s annual budgets.

“Sixty-five percent of our budget generally comes from voluntary private donations,” Morrill said. “This includes pledge drive donations, grants from private foundations and underwriting from some corporations.” Twenty percent of the agency’s operating budget is funded from the Idaho state general fund, while the remaining 15 percent comes from federal government grants, according to Morrill.

Morrill said that during the past several years, IPTV experienced an approximate 27 percent decrease in its funding from the state. However, the Legislature voted to increase the agency’s funding by about 15 percent in the last legislative session. Morrill also notes, however, that IPTV withstood an effort from Gov. Butch Otter to discontinue state funding altogether two years ago.

“In 2010 the governor proposed the idea, but the Legislature did not agree with him,” Otter spokesperson Jon Hanian told Idaho Reporter.com. “The governor nonetheless recognized that public television is unique among agencies that receive state funds, in that they have the capacity to solicit for private donations,” he added.

Thus, Otter signed legislation to expand the state tax credit for individuals and corporations who wish to donate to IPTV in an effort to incentivize voluntary contributions. Hanian would not say whether Otter might try again in his 2013 budget to wean IPTV off of state tax dollars.

Morrill said that the spending increase for fiscal year 2014 is necessary because funding cuts in recent years forced the agency to forego replacing some physical assets that are subject to wearing out.

Yet while deferring purchases of replacement equipment, IPTV has at the same time expanded its content production in the past two years. IPTV’s new “Idaho Legislature Live” service provides gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Idaho House and the Senate, along with coverage of other select proceedings at the Capitol. The content is distributed as a combination of web and broadcast video, and web-based audio. Morrill noted that this new service cost the state broadcaster an additional $205,000 in 2010.

It may be that the price tag of “Idaho Legislature Live” is being driven up by government officials themselves. Morrill, along with Idaho PTV Director of Finance Tim Tower, indicated that in 2011 the service cost about $215,000, and is likely on track for an annual increase of several thousand dollars. This additional cost, they noted, is because of the increased demand from public officials for recordings of the proceedings that are covered. Private individuals outside the government are charged $10 per recording, they said.

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